“You cannot read the same book twice. When you return to the first page it will be a different ‘you’, changed by the very experiences you are seeking to recapture.”
Mark Lawrence returns to the Library Trilogy with a pair of new short stories about the indelible impact of books on the lives of their readers. This companion volume, the aptly named Returns, brings us back to the infinitely large library of The Book that Wouldn’t Burn and its excellent cast of characters, including the deputy head librarian, Yute, and the precocious young librarian, Livira.
Returns also features our trio of beloved animal companions from The Book that Wouldn’t Burn, all of whom are depicted in Thomas Brown’s cover art. The oversized cat, Wentworth, is front and center, along with the ink-black dog, Volente, and the raven whose name I shall not reveal. All three animal friends are present in Returns, with Volente featuring prominently in both stories.
The title story of Returns concerns the search for a missing volume, The Book of Many Stories, that must be returned to the Library. The search cuts across space and time and may have implications for Yute’s missing daughter, who has been lost in the Library for over twenty years.
The second story, “About Pain,” is Mark Lawrence’s homage to J.D. Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye. The goodest of good boys, Volente, brings an unwanted copy of Catcher to the lead protagonist, Holden, who detested the book when he was forced to read it in school. Upon returning Catcher to the library, Livira instructs Holden to read it every ten years and come back to tell her about it. The story then follows Holden through the decades as his life experiences make him appreciate new aspects of Catcher that he hadn’t yet considered. In a nice touch, “About Pain” also features Clovis Eventari, Evar’s imposing redheaded sister from The Book that Wouldn’t Burn.
In my opinion, the Library Trilogy has now surpassed the Broken Empire in terms of its possibilities for short story adventures. Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy provided an outstanding setup for short stories featuring the dark wit and haunted brokenness of Jorg Ancrath, as well as those focused on side characters from his band of Road Brothers. However, since the Library spans all space and all time, the possibilities in the Library Trilogy are limitless.
The two stories in Returns serve as gentle and insightful ruminations on the universality of stories in our common humanity. In his previous Library short story, “Overdue,” Mark Lawrence focused on how books build connections between readers. In Returns, the focus is on the relationship between individual readers and the books themselves, i.e., the physical manifestations of these stories. When we return a book to the library, the book itself hasn’t changed, but we have changed irreversibly as a result of reading it.
If you enjoyed The Book That Wouldn’t Burn, be sure to add Returns to your reading list today. The Library Trilogy—and its accompanying short stories—will leave a permanent impact on you, from which there is no return.